“Enough” Support

decorative imageKeep your audience in mind when determining whether you have “enough” support, a concept that beginning writers often ask about.

Writers often want to know how many words a paragraph/unit of support should contain, and the answer is that it should develop the idea or point of the topic sentence completely enough to satisfy the writer and readers. Depending on their function, paragraphs/units of support can vary in length from one or two sentences, to over a page; however, in most college assignments, successfully developed paragraphs/units of support usually contain approximately one hundred to two hundred and fifty words and span one-fourth to two-thirds of a typed page. A series of short paragraphs in an academic essay can seem choppy and unfocused, whereas paragraphs that are one page or longer can tire readers. Giving readers a paragraph break on each page helps them maintain focus. This advice does not mean, of course, that composing a paragraph of a particular number of words or sentences guarantees an effective paragraph. Writers must provide enough supporting sentences within paragraphs to develop the topic sentence and simultaneously carry forward the essay’s main idea.

For example: In a descriptive paragraph about a room in the writer’s childhood home, a length of two or three sentences is unlikely to contain enough details to create a picture of the room in the reader’s mind, and it will not contribute in conveying the meaning of the place. In contrast, a half page paragraph, full of carefully selected vivid, specific details and comparisons, provides a fuller impression and engages the reader’s interest and imagination.

In descriptive or narrative paragraphs, supporting sentences present details and actions in vivid, specific language in objective or subjective ways, appealing to the readers’ senses to make them see and experience the subject. In addition, some sentences writers use make comparisons that bring together or substitute the familiar with the unfamiliar, thus enhancing and adding depth to the description of the incident, place, person, or idea.

In a persuasive essay about raising the wage for certified nursing assistants, a paragraph might focus on the expectations and duties of the job, comparing them to that of a registered nurse. Needless to say, a few sentences that simply list the certified nurse’s duties will not give readers a complete enough idea of what these healthcare professionals do. If readers do not have plenty of information about the duties and the writer’s experience in performing them for what she considers inadequate pay, the paragraph fails to do its part in convincing readers that the pay is inadequate and should be increased.

decorative imageAfter you draft the unit of support initially, leave it for a while and then try to return to it from the perspective of a reader new to the subject. Do you have questions that have not been answered? Would you be helped by additional information that provides details about general concepts? What additional information would make you, as a reader, see the validity in the topic sentence’s angle that is being supported? Switching from a writer’s to a reader’s perspective will help you determine whether you have developed enough support for each unit in your essay.

As a writer, you may want to develop units of support independently for each topic sentence, before you put the whole essay together. Or you may want to develop all of the support simultaneously as you draft the essay. Your approach may vary from essay to essay. As you write more essays, you’ll most likely discover the process of approach to developing support that works best for you.